In recent years, the reputations of London higher-learning institutes have not been enhanced by the dreary antics of their student unions. And until this week –when the clique at the School of Oriental and African Studies took the biscuit with a demand to drop ‘white’ philosophers such as Plato – the London School of Economics had fought off stiff competition from City University to hold the Hobnobs.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t (some) useful work being done in the LSE’s upper echelons. Take this article by Edinburgh academic Katherine Smith on the college website. Published last year (forgive the delay), it compares the difference in public-health approaches to alcohol, sugar and tobacco-smoking. What it demonstrates is that, by their own criteria, healthist states are singling out the tobacco industry for cruel and unusual punishment.

After all, obesity and alcoholism create just as many problems for society as tobacco-smoking – and yet the people who indirectly ‘cause’ them are allowed to participate in the public debate, while the cigarette industry is excluded, cast as a pariah and demonised (even though such demonisation has serious and unintended criminal consequences).

The reason, says Smith, is that Big Baccy has been cast as a villain by its enemies for trying to protect its operations over the last half-century. She has (and they have) a point. To the extent that the sector suppressed or falsified evidence, it is culpable – as culpable, say, as the great philanthropist Bill Gates was in Microsoft’s failed monopoly wars, or as the loveable Richard Branson was when he defrauded British Customs at the beginning of his career.

But when tobacco companies commission research that shows the failings of state-regulation – rather than the self-regulation allowed to other industries – they are doing no more than any self-respecting shop-keeper would. Why should they be told that their intellectual property – the very branding on which so much capitalism depends – be rendered worthless?

Any business – whether wind-turbines or widgets – has to justify itself in this accusatory age. The sugar, processed foods and alcohol industries all do so, with some vigour and some reason. So why has the health lobby decided that – unlike the wicked pleasure of a chocolate éclair or a breakfast Buck’s Fizz – smoking must be eradicated?

As Spiked pointed out earlier this week, the health lobby’s intransigence over nicotine has the potential to derail the significantly less dangerous habit of vaping (in which many cigarettes companies have huge stakes). It should swallow its pride, restrain its vengeance and invite tobacco back to the table.

by Winston Smith